Back to Our Roots Through Communities

Published by Tony Elischer on

I am very proud to say that I started my career in fundraising as a community fundraiser, at the very roots of what makes fundraising special and effective. In the early eighties the focus was on volunteer groups/committees, local events, collections (street and door-to-door) and school fundraising (with the focus on geographic location).

It was a great way to learn the true meaning of fundraising as you relied totally on you ability to interact with people, mobilise them to take action and reach out to their networks and wider community. It feels very strange to say that this was before the invention of the Internet and the many social and community tools we take for granted today.

Communities 2013

While community fundraising boomed in the eighties in the UK it has had a very mixed history from the mid nineties onwards, falling in and out of favour and taking second place to many of the amazing emerging techniques and channels for fundraising. As our options expanded and we professionalised more we either ignored, took for granted or simply deprioritised community fundraising. Of course the outlook was mixed across causes and size of organisation, but generally the attention was switching and the focus was more on staff ‘controlled’ programmes and channels.

So where are we today? As the market has continued to harden and we have realised that we are firmly in the ‘forever recession[1]’ we have been reviewing the importance and value of community fundraising and have been restoring or reinventing structures to embrace and, above all, integrate community fundraising into an overall portfolio of activities to inspire and engage individuals. But what is community fundraising in the twenty first century and beyond?

A few years ago we did a piece of research that defined community as four key areas of opportunity:

Geography: the long-standing way of targeting, mobilising and developing communities of support.

Concern: the core of most movements, identifying a group of people who share an interest, motivation, desire or concern.

Interest: the Internet means that no matter what your hobby or interest you can connect and share with other people, these communities are potentially well placed to build in on-going charitable support.

Culture: recognising the multi-cultural make up of our society this gives charities the chance to connect and respond to different cultures in our societies and their needs and interests.

We also identified that all of these four communities could be physical or remote, again adding to the potential and the challenge for fundraisers.

Most charities are now back on track in prioritising community fundraising and recognising the value, although the area still suffers from under investment in relation to other programmes. Communities continue to grow and segment, for example, building out from Communities of Culture, we now see the growing niche communities (initially referred to as diaspora or heritage communities) that are opening up to enlightened charities. As our society facilitates a move to enabling a person to be individual in so many more interactions and lifestyle choices, we now see a whole new set of communities with their own economic drivers and potential emerging, based around gender, sexuality and belief. The ‘pink dollar’ in the USA is estimated to be worth $712 billion, hence the number of charities now connecting to gay communities with dedicated programmes. While we focus on social networks and all that surrounds the Internet, we need a clear strategic framework that keeps community fundraising in the spotlight and once again establishes it as the heart and pulse of great fundraising programmes.

[1] Seth Godin

Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer

Tony has over 30 years hands on experience in the not for profit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fourteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organisations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting. In the last 12 months he has worked in over 20 countries.


Usha Menon · March 29, 2013 at 08:11

Thanks Tony for the post – yes a good reminder of the basics. ‘Do not get too impressed with the methodology that the fundraising organisations losses focus on their ‘community’ or the mission’.

I cringe when I see INGO fundraisers in Asia and their HQ managers feeling very impressed with the funds being raise by ‘outsourced’ face to face or online direct marketing entities, and basking in those results. When in fact, most of the fundraisers have never stepped out from behind their computers/ matrices and excel sheets to meet their ‘community’.

warm regards

Lianne Howard-Dace · April 6, 2013 at 12:44


Really interesting piece, thanks for talking about community fundraising which is as you say is sometimes forgotten about!

I wrote a blog a while ago with some of my own thoughts about the future of community fundraising: http://ycharity.blogspot.co.uk/2012_03_01_archive.html

I am yet to narrow the topic down but intend to write my masters dissertation around community fundraising and would be very grateful if you are able to direct me to the piece of research you mentioned.

Thanks again!

Tonya J. · April 9, 2013 at 16:30

Wow! What a fantastic article. Grassroots fundraising, although, may be the most difficult to get momentum rolling. It’s the most effective because it has a direct impact on the local community. There’s an online auction called http://www.shopbidgive.com/ and it is a perfect example of a grass root fundraising that benefits local non-profits and schools. Thank you so much for bringing this to the attention of your readers. So many people think that grass root fundraising is out the window, when in fact, it is one of the most effective means of organizing.

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